Monthly Archives: January 2014

Word of the Week, Grace edition

This week’s word in our Word of The Week series will help us understand how United Methodists talk about grace.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me – yes, that grace!  Wonderful grace, that warms the heart and turns lives around.

The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology says that the word “grace” in the New Testament is”charis” in Greek, and means God’s undeserved election of God’s people.  Grace is also understood to be what scripture means when it talks about new birth in Christ (John 1:13, 3:3), becoming members of Christ’s body (2 Corinthians 12:27) and abiding in Christ (John 15:5).  (pages 244-245 in WDCT)

Grace is an amazing gift from God that no one can earn and no one deserves.  It is a rich concept and there are many ways to describe grace.  John Wesley used three key words to talk about God’s grace.  The Word of The Week is Wesley’s first word for grace: Prevenient.

Prevenient comes from the Latin, to come before or to precede – or anticipatory – or even better, expectant.  God is expectantly reaching out to humanity.  God’s love reaches out with expectation of our response.  The joy of prevenient grace is that we don’t have to do anything to cause God to notice us or reach out to us.  We are not left to our own devices in life.  God created humanity in love, and God’s grace reaches out to us before we are even aware of God’s love.

The confirmation classes at Faith UMC use the image of a house to understand the Wesleyan way of thinking about grace.  If God’s love is a house, then prevenient grace is the love of God that gets you up onto the porch.  Prevenient grace is the front porch of God’s house – you haven’t knocked on the door yet, you haven’t asked to come inside or asked for anything yet, you’re just stepping foot onto the porch.  The kind of porch that just looks so inviting – picture it in your mind.  You don’t know what’s inside the house yet, but you think you might want to know more, so you start to pay attention.

God’s prevenient grace is invitational.  God’s prevenient grace comes before we even know we need grace or want grace.

Ephesians 2 says this about grace:  As  for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world….  All of us also lived [in the way of the world] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts….  But because of God’s great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.  (selections from Ephesians 2:1-9)

What is your experience of prevenient grace?  How did God come to you before you were even aware you needed God?  Or, how did God invite you up onto the porch of God’s great house of love and mercy?

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New Year, New Word

Happy 20141!  Yes, I know we’re almost two weeks into the new year, but we like to start things off properly around here.

We are starting a new series to kick off the new year – Word of The Week. For this series we will use the resources of Faith UMC’s clergy and their seminary educations.  Pastors make it out of seminary having done a lot of reading.  Faith UMC has three pastors, which means there is a wealth of information for the church to access.

Two books that will help the Word of The Week series are the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology.  Let’s start with the last word in that sentence to kick off the Word of The Week series, shall we?

Theology.  Just saying it out loud is enough to make some folks run for the exits.  Some say “I don’t do theology” or “I can’t do theology”.  Other say that theology is what the pastors are paid to do, so they don’t have to, they just want to hear a good sermon and that’s enough.  So what is this intimidating word?  What does theology mean?

The word “theo” is Greek for God, and “logy” means to study or to discuss.  Simply put, if you study God or talk about God, you are engaged in “theology”.  It’s not at all as intimidating as it sounds.  To “do theology” means that people of faith are thinking about what God is calling them to do in their context and then putting actions to their beliefs.  To “reflect theologically” means that a group of Christians has done something (a mission project or a worship service) and then talked about it, what it means to them, what they learned about God/Christ/Holy Spirit and themselves in the process.

For example, Faith UMC youth participate in mission projects and camps during the summer.  At the end of each work day or after a camp worship service, our youth gather and reflect on the day – what they learned, how they saw Christ through the actions of others, how their hearts are affected by the Spirit.  This is theological reflection.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says that theology’s theme is the Being and Nature of God and all God’s creation.  Theology, then, is learning or discussing with others about God, creation, and humanity.  Theology is important to the church, and isn’t something that only pastors with a seminary education can do.  Theology is something all believers do when then think about or study about God/Christ/Holy Spirit.

Discussion questions:  What do you think about this definition of “theology”?  How can you “do theology” or “reflect theologically” in your daily life?

Also leave a comment if you have suggestions for our Word of The Week series – what words do you want to know more about?

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